Team Report:

Bill Cowher has been so quiet this offseason that Pittsburgh Steelers fans began wondering if someone had told him to clam up. But when he finally spoke for the first time since two days after his team lost in the playoffs, he said a mouthful.

Cowher talked about his team for the first time in more than two months this past week at the NFL meetings in Phoenix. There, he revealed the Steelers will not restructure quarterback Tommy Maddox's contract this year.

That will come as a surprise to Maddox's agent, Vann McElroy, who has been trying to negotiate a new deal for the starting quarterback. McElroy welcomed Pittsburgh's signing of Charlie Batch recently to a two-year, $2 million contract. He felt after that they could start getting serious with Maddox, who will earn a salary of only $650,000 this season.

Maddox signed a contract extension last June, when he was still a backup quarterback. He is signed through 2006. He does have incentives that bring him more if he starts and he earned more than $400,000 extra last season. Still, Batch has the same incentives in his deal, which is better than Maddox's.

Here is what Cowher said when he was asked if the Steelers would redo Maddox's deal:

"Not this season. I think it would be out of character for us to do it. We'll talk to him about the situation. I know it's a very sensitive situation. Mr. Rooney will do the right thing. I'm not in a position to sign players but it'll be addressed."

What that means is the Steelers will go into the 2003 season paying their backup, Batch, more than their starter. The real reason they won't redo the Maddox deal is they don't have to. They know Maddox won't say anything and with Batch, an experienced starter, behind him, what can he do about it?

They also want to see Maddox perform well one more season before they make a stronger commitment to him. After all, it was his first real season in a decade. The Steelers want to see what defenses do in the offseason to try to attack Maddox's perceived weaknesses and how he handles it. In other words, they are not entirely convinced to back this horse with a lot of money. And, since he's signed through 2006, they don't have to do anything right now.

For all his comeback play and his welcome precision passing after Kordell Stewart, Maddox had his ups and downs last season. The Steelers lost a bye in the playoffs because expansion Houston beat them in Pittsburgh because Maddox had two interceptions returned for touchdowns and carelessly fumbled a ball that also was returned for a touchdown. He also played poorly at Tennessee before he was knocked out with a spinal cord concussion. He had thrown three interceptions and the Steelers trailed 28-7 when he left in the third quarter.

Maddox had a tendency to take chances, throwing when he's out of position or putting the ball up for grabs. He threw 20 touchdown passes but also 16 interceptions and his 85.2 passer rating was barely better than Stewart's 82.8.

That is why the Steelers are not ready to commit to Maddox in a big way -- yet. If he turns in a good season, they may well redo his deal next year. The Steelers are in good shape with Batch behind Maddox, and they likely will draft a quarterback, perhaps on the first day.


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